Real Time Web Analytics


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Why can't I see the Will?

Over the years, I've been asked by dozens of family members and other interested parties how they can see someone's Will. In each case, it wasn't a general interest question, but a request that I help them obtain a copy of a certain individual's document. Usually, but not always, it was the Will of someone who had passed away. I find it interesting that a lot of people believe they have a right to see a Will just because they want to see it, which of course is not the case.

A Will is a private document. Lawyers advise their clients to keep their original Wills in the safe deposit box at the bank, in a locked safe at home, or in the lawyer's vault. Part of the reason is that they don't want to lose the original Will, but just as importantly, they don't want it to be read by anyone. An individual can choose to show someone his or her Will if they want to, but nobody, including the executor named in the Will, has an enforceable right to see it if the owner doesn't want to show it.

After the owner of the Will (the testator) has passed away, things change, but the Will is still private. If the Will is held at a bank, lawyer's office or trust company, it won't be released to anyone except the executor named in the Will itself. Nor will it be shown to anyone else. There could be an exception where the testator left written instructions to give it to someone else, but that is extremely rare.

The most common reason given for wanting to see someone's Will is that the individual asking the question believes that he or she is a beneficiary of the Will. They want to confirm this, and to find out what they will inherit.

In Alberta, when a Will is probated, the executor is required to provide every beneficiary with a notice by registered mail of what they are going to inherit. If they are inheriting a portion of the residue of the estate, they will receive a copy of the whole Will along with copies of all documents (including inventory of assets and debts) filed with the court. If they are receiving a specific gift, such as a piece of jewelry or a stated amount of cash, they will not be given a copy of the Will, nor are they entitle to receive one. The notices are usually sent out by the lawyer's office.

Not all estates go through probate, so this process does not cover everyone. However, the same rules apply. If you are a residuary beneficiary of an estate, you are entitled to see the entire Will. Otherwise, you're not.

A problem sometimes arises when an executor is overly secretive about the estate. This could signify a problem, but not always. A family member who is positive that he or she was named as a beneficiary in the deceased's Will may be suspicious or upset if the executor refuses to say whether the person is or is not still in the Will. In a case like this, if you want to see the Will, you should consult an estate litigation lawyer to represent you in a formal request for the information you want. Sometimes a court order is required.

There are other reasons for wanting to see what's in a Will. For example, if you are acting for an incapacitated adult under an Enduring Power of Attorney or Personal Directive, you will likely be allowed to see the incapacitated adult's Will while he or she is alive. This is because you will have to make decisions for the incapacitated adult that might be affected by what is in the Will.


  1. My grandfather passed away 9 months ago and my uncles where made executor of his will. My mom, their sister passed away 8 years ago and there's no mention of my mom named in the will. The will has never been shared by my uncles, they have been very hush hush about my grandfather estate.
    Should I be entitled to a copy of the will on my mothers behalf???

    1. Hi. If your mother was not a beneficiary of the will, then no, you are not entitled to a copy of the will. It sounds as if your grandfather may have made a new will after your mom died. However, let's not assume that. It's quite possible that the will says to divide the estate among all of your grandfather's children. Your uncles may be interpreting that as meaning your mother doesn't get a share because she has passed away. She doesn't have to be named specifically. Most likely the will says that if one of the kids has passed away then her kids (i.e. you) should get her share. It would be worthwhile to ask a lawyer to write a formal letter to the uncles. It doesn't have to be confrontational. It just needs to ask for written verification of whether the will includes your mother or her children. Unfortunately, a lot of executors operate on the idea that if you don't tell a potential beneficiary anything, they'll never find out. I'm not saying your uncles are doing that, but they might be, and it's worth it to get legal help to find out. If money is an issue, try going to a law school that has a student legal services.


  2. My father passed away 5 years ago .I have asked to see the will on numerous occasions as well as right after his death and was denied by my step brother.When the will was read I was informed 2 hours before knowing that I could not make it there as I live 4 hours away.I have a right to see it even after all this time how do I do that?


You might also like

Related Posts with Thumbnails